9 affordable ways to upgrade your turntable


We can't think of another period in recent hi-fi history where vinyl has received so much focus from manufacturers - and in this era of plug-and-play expediency, owning a turntable has never been so convenient.

But though perhaps there isn't as much you have to do to get optimum performance from your deck, there have likewise never been so many opportunities to upgrade your turntable without simply buying a new one.

Below we've come up with nine affordable ways to upgrade, from investing in a better phono stage to simply putting your player on a suitable surface. We'd put our money on there being something here that will better your turntable's sound and, just as importantly, for minimal outlay.

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Buy a new phono stage

A phono stage has two jobs: it provides extra amplification - the output of your cartridge can be in the order of a thousand times less than a typical CD player - and equalises the tonal balance, which because of vinyl's physical limitations is skewed heavily toward the higher frequencies.

So it's like zooming in on photos on Facebook - the more you have to magnify, the more detail you're likely to lose. So it really isn't worth skimping.

Your turntable or amplifier might already have a phono stage built in, and there are plenty decent examples of products like this on the market, but upgrading to a new or separate component could be the most drastic improvement you can make to your turntable's sound without replacing the whole thing.

Standalone phono stages come in a variety of price ranges to suit your turntable system, but we'd start from the affordable Rega Fono Mini A2D (£90) to the mid-priced Arcam rPhono (£399).

Read our phono stage reviews

Change the cartridge

With most turntables below the really high-end (and even then, some of those too) nowadays arriving with pre-selected units already fitted, it's easy to overlook how integral the cartridge is to your deck's entire personality.

For those unaware of the fundamentals, the cartridge is effectively your conduit of sound from the groove pressed into a vinyl record to the phono stage, amplifier and so on. They come in two varieties: moving magnet (where a magnet translates vibrations by moving between two static coils) and moving coil (which is basically the other way round).

There's a certain amount of experimentation to be done here, though many manufacturers will make suggestions for upgrades they believe will best suit the character of their turntable. You'll also need to check whether your phono stage is compatible with MM, MC or both and, as with most upgrades, you'll want to keep within the realistic capabilities of the rest of your kit.

Read our cartridge reviews

Change the arm

This one is more for owners of premium turntables - when it comes to tonearms, an upgrade is really worth it only if the deck is of a higher level than the existing arm, which doesn't tend to be the case with most entry-level or even mid-range turntables where deck, arm and cartridge are sold as a package.

If you're in a position to do so, however, changing the arm can give the cartridge better support and, if you've chosen suitably, should result in better all-round sound.

WATCH: Are these the best-engineered turntables you can buy?

Invest in proper support

This is perhaps the easiest aspect of turntable set-up to neglect, but if done properly is likely to make one of the most significant improvements to your turntable's overall performance.

The ideal support is perfectly level, low-resonance and positioned as far away from sources of vibration as possible - including your speakers.

A floorstanding support will work fine on a hard concrete floor, though the same support will emphasise footfall on a suspended wooden floor. If you have such a floor construction, we would recommend getting out the tool kit and investing in a dedicated wall shelf.

MORE: How to get the best sound from your turntable

Experiment with tracking weight and bias

Cartridge manufacturers will recommend a suitable range of downforce, usually between 1.5 and 2.5g, with a specific weight listed as most appropriate.

But taking into account production tolerances and the use of different arms, it's sometimes possible to get better sound with a bit of experimentation.

If the sound is a bit dull and lifeless you've gone too heavy, while a thin or aggressive presentation means the tracking weight is too light. Setting the weight too light can also cause the cartridge to mistrack, possibly damaging the record grooves in the process.

MORE: How to set up your turntable

Ask a dealer to set it up

This isn't about being lazy (though it does tick that box as well) but a good dealer should be experienced in setting up turntables and could be able to deliver better results. If you're a customer, they should be only too happy to help you get the best sound from your turntable.

MORE: How to build the perfect hi-fi system

Get it serviced

There are a number of elements that can be adjusted and optimised if you get your turntable serviced. If your deck has suspension, it can be tinkered with - the main bearing can be cleaned and oiled, the belt can be checked and replaced if neccessary. Cartridge alignment, bias and tracking weight can be checked, while all of the various nuts, bolts and fittings can be tightened.

Moreover, the dealer may be aware of upgrades and advise you as to what would make the most noticeable improvement to your particular turntable's sound.

Buy more records

There are two sides to this argument. The first says simply that a wider, more diverse record collection is an upgrade to your system in itself, and will have you focusing more on your enjoyment of the music than getting too systematic or mathematical about how your system sounds.

If you do want to get analytical, however, picking out a record you may not have otherwise listened to could be a useful way of highlighting a particular aspect of your deck's sound that needs upgrading. Read a few of our hi-fi reviews and you'll notice a reasonably eclectic mix of test tunes - there's no point judging a product using only one LP.

MORE: 50 of the best hi-fi albums for audiophiles

Keep it and your records clean

We've all heard what a dusty needle sounds like, and it isn't great. And we all know we really ought to clean our turntable more often than we do, despite how boring it is.

Equally important, though, is looking after your vinyl, and there's more you can do than just a quick dust before you drop it on the platter. If, for example, the record comes in a cardboard or coarse paper inner sleeve, it can be replaced with a decent anti-static poly-lined alternative. Investing in a decent microfibre cloth will serve you better than a square of kitchen roll, too.

Peruse any vinyl-focused online forum and you can spend hours reading about the ways people clean their records: it's something you need to take seriously if you're after the best sound possible.


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